Have your kids gone back to school yet? Our big day is just one week away! In anticipation of the back to school crazies, I’ve put together some of my best tips for a smooth transition and a less stressful year. These tips are written primarily for stay-at-home parents, but working moms and dads will find some helpful back to school ideas too.
1. Do as much as you can the night before.
Whether your kids take the bus or you are driving them to school, make your morning less stressful by packing lunches and backpacks the night before. Make “pack your lunch” and “put your backpack by the door” part of the evening routine. For some healthy lunch ideas, I like to check out this school lunch round up at 100 Days of Real Food.
Want to make packing lunches a snap? You’ve got to see I Heart Organizing’s refrigerator lunch station!
And it’s not too soon to teach your kids to make their own lunches!
2. Get up before the kids.
I’ve always been more productive early in the morning, so this isn’t a problem for me. But even if you’re not a morning person — it’s helpful if you can at least be showered when the kids hop out of bed.
If you’re super organized, you might even have their breakfast waiting when they head to the table. (Yeah, I’m not there yet.)
3. Teach your kids to follow a consistent morning routine.
Do your kids know what they’re supposed to do when they wake up? Our three oldest kids share a bedroom. If they wake up early, they can use the bathroom and talk to each other — but no one gets dressed or heads downstairs until 6:45 AM. After breakfast, they get on shoes and jackets and brush their teeth. Then they’re allowed to play until it’s time to head out the door.
JDaniel4’s Mom has some printable routines that might be just right for your family.
4. Make jackets, shoes, and socks easily accessible.
After wasting most of my life running upstairs to find toddler socks, I finally wised up and put a few plastic 3-drawer bins in our hall closet. Socks and shoes are stored right in the drawers. In the winter, each of my kids has a hat and gloves (when not on the drying rack) in his drawer as well.
5. Keep backpacks and lunch bags in a central location, and teach kids to be responsible for bringing their own things.
We keep our school bags in a stairwell near the kitchen. The kids are responsible for parking their bags there after school and bringing me their lunch boxes. Usually, if a child forgets a backpack or lunch bag in the morning, I remind him or her to go back and get it rather than grab it myself. When we’re in the van I often do a last minute check before we back up. “Do you have your backpack / lunch box / (and in the winter) snow pants and snow boots?”
Check out Mama Smiles’ organization system for keeping all her kids’ things in one place. (I so want one of these!)
6. Plan to leave at least ten minutes before you need to.
If we leave for school at 8:00 AM, my kids get there with just enough time to put away their things and sign in. So I plan for a 7:45 AM departure. With both a six month old and 2-year-old, it’s not uncommon for a diaper or tantrum to put us behind schedule. That cushion of time is important!
7. Make the most of the ride to school (if you have one).
We have a ten minute drive to school each morning, a noonday pickup for my kindergartner, and 3 PM pick up for my second grader. With my little ones spending an hour in the car transporting their siblings to and from school, I want to make the most of our time. Fun family games like “would you rather” questions are a great way to fill the time. We also love recorded books from the library and Heidisongs for learning letter sounds, spelling, and more.
Just getting out the door can be enough of a challenge – so don’t feel pressured to use every moment of your driving time profitably. But try to refrain from making a habit of entertaining your kids with the DVD player or iPad on the drive to school. Let them start their school day with uncluttered, open minds.
8. Make yourself available after school by putting distractions aside.
This is going to take quite a bit of willpower on my part, but my plan is to to turn off my computer at 2:45 PM and keep it off until the evening. When we return from picking up my daughter, I won’t be distracted by email, Facebook notifications, or blog statistics. My focus needs to be on helping my daughter transition smoothly from school to home.
9. Build snack and talk time into your after school routine.
We’ve got five kids ages 7 and under. It’s never quiet around here, except maybe in the middle of the night. (Maybe). But I’m working to schedule quiet, relaxing moments into our day. My goal for this year is to have an after school snack waiting on the table when we return from picking up our oldest at 3:15. I won’ t be checking my iPad, computer, or making a phone call. It will be our time to enjoy a snack and reconnect with the big sister who’s been gone all day. (I’ll be referring to this list of 150 snack ideas from Kids Activities Blog!)
10. Have a plan for homework which works for you and your kids.
Some kids need a little break after school before hitting the books. For other families, the best thing to do is tackle the homework and get it out of the way. It may take a little trial and error to see what works for you, but a consistent routine is best. Visit Fantastic Fun and Learning for help setting up a homework station.
11. Build some bonding into your after school routine.
After an after school snack, my daughter and I love to sit on the couch together with a good chapter book. This is our special time together and a nice transition to homework time. We’ll be referring to What Do We Do All Day’s book lists (particularly her list for kids ages 4-6) as we choose this year’s read alouds.
12. Create a family command center to keep papers and schedules organized.
My husband and I have a synced Google Calendar which keeps us on track (when I enter the events on the correct dates, ahem). Some people prefer a bigger, posted calendar – we might need to add that as our kids’ schedules get busier. You’ll definitely be inspired by these beautiful family command center ideas from Tip Junkie.
13. Lessen your load by giving kids age appropriate chores.
I’ve been pretty lax with our chore chart this summer, but I know we can’t run an organized house without it. I’ll be labeling chores “before school” and “after school” and teaching the kids to do their jobs so that they become routines they hardly need to think about. (This will be easier with some chores more than with others!) I love these creative chore charts from Kids Activities Blog.
14. Continually evaluate whether your kids’ commitments and activities best serve your family.
Our oldest is only entering second grade; sports, music lessons, and after school clubs await. How will we find time for these things and still have a relaxing evening after school? If we’re spending more time driving, waiting, and watching rather than talking, playing, and engaging with our children — we need to reevaluate.
15. Keep your own schedule as open as possible.
When you get asked to serve on another committee, don’t be afraid to decline if it’s going to make things more stressful for your family. Believe me, I know how hard it is to say no. But for every season of life, we have to evaluate what we can and can’t do. For me, an open schedule from 3-6 PM is a must if my kids are going to get the attention and structure they need.
What are your best back to school ideas for a smoother school year?
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